Hemlock Society Euthanasia And The Right-To-Die

| Thursday, May 14, 2015
By Tammie Caldwell

The issue of assisting people to die at the end of their lives will always be controversial. According to the hemlock society euthanasia offers some control and dignity to those who are suffering at the end of their lives. This organization was started many years ago in a garage in California.

Derek Humphrey, who had assisted his terminally ill wife in her death, was the founder of this organization. The name was inspired by the fact that Socrates had weighed his options and made a choice to die by ingesting a tincture of the plant. The organization attracted a growing membership and local groups all over the nation began meeting and discussing end-of-life issues.

The organization had great influence over the years, with one of its actions being to help with changing the law by engaging in political activities. However, having such laws passed proved to be tougher than expected and many times they were accepted, challenged and then rescinded. One of the first states to pass such a law was Oregon.

Another way that more people were forced to think about the issue was through the publication of many books written by Derek Humphrey. Pamphlets, audio and video tapes were also used to educate people. A book called Final Exit made it onto the New York Times bestseller list. The first account of a physician assisting a patient with her death, was published in the New England Journal in 1991. Dr Timothy Quill described how he had given his terminally ill patient, Diane, barbiturates and told her how much she needed to take.

Several countries such as Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and more recently, Canada allow physician-assisted death for terminally ill patients. In America, a couple of other states have followed Oregon in passing right-to-die laws but patients must administer their own medications.

The struggle to have physician-assisted death legalized lead to research into non-medical ways to achieve a peaceful death. One of the most popular methods was the use of helium gas, made available in small kits. Recently, in 2015 Canada has passed a law legalizing physician-assisted death, following in the footsteps of Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The original organization held many national conferences over the years, began a Patient Advocacy Program and provided much information in the form of pamphlets, books, video and audio tapes. Its quarterly magazine has become the largest of this type of publication in the Western Hemisphere. The national organization does not exist any more, although local chapters do still bear the name. It evolved into End-of-Life Choices and the organization is now called Compassion and Choices.

Compassion and Choices pursues a multi-pronged approach just like the original organization. It continues to work at having favorable legislation passed. It helps to ensure that patients have access to all the available options when it comes to the ending their lives. It works at increasing the control of the patient wherever possible and helping to prevent intervention that is not wanted. Above all, its aim is to make dying a legitimate and open action for the terminally ill.

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